MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev) - It seems that the international status of a state now depends not only on foreign policy, trade and cultural achievements, but on the ability of its government to cope with natural disasters.
As if an earthquake or typhoon is similar to the Olympic Games, competence in disaster relief determines whether a government is worthy of international respect, or should be ostracized and weakened.
This strange conclusion is suggested by the political games around events which seem to be outside politics - a devastating earthquake in China, a typhoon in nearby Myanmar (Burma), and the forthcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.
What happened in China would be a fatal catastrophe for a major European state. Sichuan, a province of 90 million people, has been the rice and vegetable granary for the entire country, and I hope, will remain so. It is surrounded by mountains, which makes it difficult to access. In the Second World War this helped the Chinese resist the Japanese in Sichuan when all other places had fallen. Now rescue teams are working hard to get there to help cities flattened by the earthquake.
On the television screen we see the heavy equipment that started clearing the rubble on the very first day and rescue teams in brand-new outfits carrying children. If it were not for the heavy rain, helicopters would already have been in the skies. Yes, the first tremor is likely to have killed several tens of thousands of people, rather than the 12,000 initially reported, but on the whole it seems that China has enough money, stamina and, most importantly, competence to cope with the disaster. But looking at the screens, some people are wondering whether Beijing will have enough money to rescue Sichuan (it is comparable in size and population to a major European state), and still conduct the Olympic Games in August. And what are the implications for the Chinese economy as a whole?
The prestige of the current U.S. administration was worst hit not by its failures in Iraq, but by its bungled reaction to Hurricane Katrina, which flooded the whole of New Orleans. George W. Bush was showered with criticism for everything, including his failure to allocate the money for drainage systems two years before.
I'd also like to recall how the world scrutinized the behavior of the Chinese authorities during the avian flu epidemic. At first they were roundly (and justly) criticized for trying to conceal the facts and the true extent of the epidemic. But eventually, everyone acknowledged that China rose to the occasion. Now those early mistakes are forgotten.
The Chinese authorities are absolutely adequate. Though they do not seem to need it badly, they have announced their readiness to accept any international aid for disaster victims. Nothing is extra, if it can help save even one life. Incidentally, Beijing has also promised to continue helping Myanmar, which was badly hit by a hurricane and flooding less than two weeks ago.
Myanmar, in contrast, demonstrates strikingly little of this adequacy, and I'm not only talking about its authorities. There has probably never been another country that would turn down international humanitarian aid when up to 1.5 million of its people were affected by a disaster. But that is what is now happening in Burma. At one point, the United States, Britain, and France even tried to put its "refusal to accept aid" on the agenda of the UN Security Council with all the ensuing consequences, sanctions included.
But other members of the Security Council grasped the situation well, and recalled that humanitarian aid was not within its competence. China, Indonesia, South Africa, Panama and some other countries criticized this conduct as an attempt to gain political capital from a tragedy.
The problem is not about aid as such. One diplomatic source from a Western delegation to the Security Council said that it was necessary to pressure Myanmar's military government (which is disliked by the West and the rest of the world) into granting international experts access to the disaster area. At one of its airports, the Myanmar authorities recently confiscated all humanitarian aid, which the UN had sent under the World Food Program. In other words, they seized the products, medicines, and equipment - even though they were meant for them in the first place - and denied UN employees access to the country. The situation was later restored, but the world media again lashed out at the Myanmar authorities - how are they saving their people and are they adequate at all?
Why on earth would any country's authorities not want to see workers of international organizations and NGOs in such an extreme situation? The explanation is very simple - they remember an attempt to stage in Myanmar a classic velvet revolution in the late summer and early fall of last year. It was similar to what happened in Georgia and Serbia, and closer to home in the Philippines in 1986, or in Tibet just a few weeks ago. Several months after each of these events, the role of employees of international funds and organizations in these riots became clear. So, there is some method in the apparent madness of the Myanmar authorities.
Luckily, Beijing did not remind the world of the recent unrest in Tibet, where the role of the outside forces was revealed very fast. China is a bigger and stronger country, and its authorities are more adequate.
Attempts to politicize the Olympic Games are nothing new. But this is the first political game around relief to disaster victims.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.